At the age of ten, I converted to Islam, a decision that may seem unusual to some but was deeply meaningful to me. I hope that by sharing my story, I can help other children who may be facing similar challenges. I was raised in a family where my mother practiced Roman Catholicism and my father was Baptist. I had an older sister who was a year and a half older than me.
When I was just six weeks old, my father took me from my crib and left with another woman, abandoning my mother and sister. He kept me hidden and was involved in drugs. The first few years of my life were marked by feelings of hunger and loneliness, and I had a difficult temper. My mother’s friends helped her secure a job as a bartender to support us, and during this time, she was often absent as she worked to provide for my sister and me.
Eventually, one of my father’s friends alerted my mother to my whereabouts, concerned that something dangerous might happen to me. My mother immediately went to find me and discovered my father and his friends using drugs. She saw me being neglected, and without hesitation, she took me with her. I didn’t really know my mother at the time, and I think I may have thought I was being kidnapped, as I acted out with temper tantrums and became even more angry.
Eventually, my mother was able to get me to smile, learn how to hug, and even say “I love you” – things I was unable to do when she found me. She had to support two children and herself, so she often worked long hours at the bar, which meant we were frequently left with various babysitters.
One day, my father came to our home and took me back to where he was living with another woman. Later that year, he attempted to enroll me in school, but my disruptive behavior caused the school to ask me to leave. I was returned to my mother, who was glad to have me back and took me to my sister’s school.
Believing I was being abandoned once more, I threw a fit, hitting my teachers and other students. As a result, the school told my mother I was no longer allowed to attend. In my anger, I acted out in any way I could think of. This time, my mother took me on a plane to her mother’s house, located across the country in another state. She was very loving, but also very strict when it came to my tantrums. Rather than yelling, she would take me by the hand and walk me outside to a pile of small wooden blocks on the side of the house whenever I had a tantrum or destroyed something. She would have me move the blocks from one side of the driveway to the other and then leave me alone until I finished. At first, I was angry with her, but by the time I completed the task, I was no longer angry. It became like a game to me.
After spending eight months living with my grandmother, I was able to overcome my tantrums and learned to enjoy listening to her read bible stories and poems to me until I fell asleep. I also became proficient in my school lessons and even learned how to ride a horse. When it was time for me to return home, I was doing so well that I was allowed to fly back alone with an escort. I felt proud and happy to have achieved this level of personal growth.
My grandmother told me that whenever I was angry, sad, or lonely, I should think about God and remember how He took care of people in the Bible. She advised me to pray to God whenever I was upset or angry instead of hurting anyone. When I returned home, my mother was pleased to see that I was no longer causing harm or throwing tantrums.
I was eating well and not afraid to sleep. I was happy almost all of the time. My mother worked all the time while babysitters took care of my sister and a new brother who was born while I was away. My father knew that my mother had to work to take care of us and yet he would never give her even a penny to help. He divorced her without telling her. Then again my father came one day. He saw how good I had turned out and just like before, he took me away.
The new lady my father was living with was so cruel. I lost a lot of weight. I am not sure how things happened, but it was during that time that I supposedly split my head open on monkey bars at the school, and supposedly was hit by a jeep in front of their home. I do not remember those things too clearly, but I do remember his girlfriend picking up a two-by-four and hitting me with it in the front yard. I also remember my father slamming my head into the kitchen table because I did not write fast enough.
He and his lady friend would threaten me by convincing me that the devil would come out of my bedroom floor and take me to burn in hell if I got out of bed while they were having drug parties. This went on until I was in fourth grade. My father used to show me a big baggie filled with drugs he was then getting from a doctor and telling me how good they made him feel. His house was filled with dirty magazines and MTV movies and it all seemed normal because that was all I ever knew back then.
I did not know there was any other way to live. I had long forgotten how my grandmother had taught me to pray and I could not remember the wonderful days I spent with her riding horses, being hugged, and read to about God. All the bad stuff at that age seemed to push the good stuff away. When it was time to start fourth grade I acted uncontrollably at school, hoping that I would get sent back to my mother or grandmothers. I did not stop until I got what I wanted, and it worked.
I was taken back and left with my mother. By then she was working around sixty hours a week. She would come home tired, yelling and screaming and expecting us to take care of ourselves and not give her anymore trouble. I wanted attention from her, and so I went back to being a brat and being mean to my sister and my new little brother whom I resented even more.
By the end of the first month of that school year, I was the worst I had ever been. My mother could not cope with me one minute longer. My father had already made me go to doctors who put me on five different kinds of medicines—from Ritalin to even worse drugs—to try to control me, but even that did not work. In fact, that stuff made me worse.
I beat up other kids, started fights, accused them of doing things they did not do, stole things, lied, refused to obey the teachers, or do any work. School to me was a place I was going to play and do whatever I wanted to do. I knew they could not do anything about it. I thought I was really something and all I thought about was myself. They sent me to the hall, to the office, to home, and even put a box around me in class to keep me from bothering other kids, but I still did not give up. Do not get me wrong here—I am not saying all these to sound cool. I was an idiot to say the least—I know that now. I want other kids to know that it does not have to be that way regardless of their family problems.
So, if I do not say how bad it had gotten they will not be able to understand. I was only ten years old then. I am almost fourteen now. When I look back about what I was at ten, I cannot believe that I am the same person, or that the kid I am telling you about above was for real. But he was for real and he was me! Most people would not believe that a ten-year-old kid could be as bad and do as bad things as I did.
It all finally came to an end for me when, one day, I called the home of a kid, pretending to be another kid, and told them that their boy was missing. You can imagine how much trouble I was in then. That only got me into more drugs from the doctor. All those drugs made me see things and hear things that were not there and made me angry enough to be dangerous.
I do not believe anyone should put their kids on those drugs even if the school insists. Adults just have no idea what those drugs do to kids or what they make kids think about. I am proof to tell you that kids are not going to admit to parents or doctors or anyone about having horrid thoughts because of the drugs.
Anyway, when the drugs were not helping and I was getting into even more trouble, it was at that point they threatened to put me out of the family forever. All of a sudden, my mother did not want to put up with it anymore. My father did not want me either. I did not know what was going to happen to me.
Story By – Waai’ll Abdul Salam (Austin Roy)